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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Police chief Hurtt calls on city to help curb black deaths

A ministers' organization today called on elected officials to form a committee to study ways to combat rapidly increasing violence among Houston's African-American youth.

"We're going to scream from the rooftop" until elected officials respond by forming a committee to study the problem, said the Rev. Robert Jefferson, pastor of Cullen Missionary Baptist Church.

Jefferson, the director of special projects for Houston Ministers Against Crime, spoke at a news conference the group held a day after Police Chief Harold Hurtt called on local churches, schools, businesses and other organizations to join him in developing innovative ways of addressing an alarming increase in the number of Houston's young black men killing each other.

A national study, released last month, found a 139 percent increase in the number of black suspects in Houston homicides between 2000-01 and 2006-07. That was the largest percentage increase among 28 U.S. cities, according to the study by Northeastern University criminologists James Fox and Marc Swatt.

The number of young black men murdered in Houston jumped from 42 to 129 during the study period. Hurtt called the study a "lightning rod" focusing attention on the problem.

"Success doesn't just happen," Hurtt said. "It takes a lot of work and concerted effort."

The report was released as Hurtt's department announced that 2008's preliminary homicide total is 294 — down more than 16 percent from the previous year. Harris County reported 69 killings, up seven from 2007.

Hurtt and Fox suggested killings involving Hurricane Katrina evacuees contributed to the spike in lethal crimes. Although major crimes involving former Louisiana residents have dropped sharply, Hurtt worried that youth violence will escalate during economic hard times.

Noting that youth violence frequently occurs after school, the police chief advocated that schools increase supervised after-school activities.

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